Money has been pouring into insurtechs, reaching a record of almost $2 billion in Q4 2019. Since 2018, investors have put more than $1 billion per quarter into companies seeking to shake up the industry. Not a single market segment has been untouched.
In 2020, the focus will be on innovating with insurtechs that enable incumbents. One report found that 96% of insurers said that they wanted to collaborate with insurtech firms in some way. Those surveyed favored partnerships and the software as a service (SaaS) approach to developing new solutions. There’s a rapidly growing list of insurer and insurtech partnerships.
Insurtechs are developing to solve niche problems, and most aren’t aiming to tackle every vertical or every phase of the process. We all know the saying, jack of all trades, master of none. Insurtechs are focused on being the master at very specific parts of the value chain. Allianz has partnered with Flock, an insurtech startup offering pay-per-flight drone insurance; Aviva partnered with Digital Risks in the U.K. to develop insurance for startups and small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs); and State Farm partnered with Cambridge Mobile Telematics to deliver usage-based insurance to drivers in the U.S.
One big driver of these partnerships is the inability of one company to do everything at once. Synergies can be realized when combining complementary skills. In Germany, Generali formed a partnership with Nest to offer homeowners insurance that leverages Nest’s smart home technology. Nest’s technology detects smoke and carbon monoxide and sends alerts to customer’s phones, reducing the risk for the insurer. Nationwide’s partnership with sure.com allows it to sell renters insurance through an app; Nationwide is still handing the underwriting and policy management separately.
More and more, incumbents are working with several insurtechs that integrate to bring change to every aspect of the industry.
Insurtechs bring the speed, agility and technological skills that incumbents need.
As Deloitte’s 2020 Insurance Outlook pointed out, “Despite some attempts to upgrade legacy marketing and distribution systems… carriers continue to struggle to drive more effective connections with consumers accustomed to online shopping and self-service.” Trying to bring legacy systems into the current age of digitization simply isn’t working, and, if incumbents try to build in-house, they face a longer time to market and higher costs.
Partnering with an insurtech company allows incumbents to quickly bridge the innovation gap, where technology changes faster than their ability to keep up. The estimated timeframe to develop solutions in-house is around 18 months, whereas you can be up and running in as little as three months if you partner with an insurtech. Moreover, incumbents that partner can respond more quickly to changing customer demands and lessen their risk of losing market share to a competitor.
For their part, insurtechs have realized that seeking to disrupt and replace incumbents can be too costly. To run a successful insurance company, you need significant capital, which is difficult for startups to raise. The insurance industry is also regulation-heavy, making it difficult for newcomers to find a place. Startups struggle to access the complex networks that support insurers. The industry presents too many barriers to independent disruption, but partnership benefits everyone involved.
Insurers are ready to innovate and have the data and distribution networks to support large-scale rollouts. Insurtechs have the technology and the agility to come into a large organization in the midst of change, work with its legacy systems, partner with insurtechs solving other problems in the supply chain and provide immediate value in moving them into the digital world. Both sides of the equation are ready and willing to realize the benefits of working together.
Microinsurance is an industry that keeps building momentum. Changes in the global economy have created an emerging middle class that has been underserved by traditional insurance models — and microinsurance offers a needed solution.
For people in developing countries, who in many cases live on just a few dollars a day, traditional insurance is too costly. Constrained finances and limited awareness act as a significant deterrent for purchasing traditional, risk-mitigating insurance products. However, when loss events like those stemming from Hurricane Maria or workplace injury occur, insurance is necessary to rebuild communities and individual lives. Considering that nearly 6.5 billion residents live in emerging and developing countries like Ghana, the Philippines and Vietnam, the scale of this opportunity exceeds virtually any other single opportunity in mature insurance markets.
Much of the (re)insurance market’s recent attention has centered on global natural-catastrophe losses, which have exceeded $500 billion since 2017. Many communities around the world were dramatically affected by these losses, forcing prominent insurers to understand the best way to serve those communities.
Why Micro Makes Sense
The increased buying power within these developing communities confirms there’s an opportunity for microinsurance to grow. A World Bank study found that, from 1985 to 2017, Vietnam’s per-capita GDP jumped by nearly 10 times from $230 to $2,343. Such gains encourage significant interest and investment specifically focused on microinsurance product development.
Allianz, for example, has doubled down on its commitment to the field by joining forces with FPT Group to build insurance products for Vietnam and purchasing micro insurer BIMA for $290 million. In addition, LeapFrog raised $400 million for microinsurance product development and distribution, proof that sophisticated parties believe in the value of microinsurance products.
For new markets where skepticism toward high-premium private products exists, microinsurance offers a low-cost option to mitigate risk and grow trust with corporate insurance brands. However, when viewed in the aggregate, there remains a mismatch between high-growth areas in terms of population and income — Latin America and the Caribbean, Asia and Oceania and Africa — and insurance penetration in these areas, which currently sits at only 7%.
The challenge for investors and the insurers they support is simple: educating communities, developing relevant products and establishing trust in these products; all of which is typically expended before the first premium dollar is collected. The challenge is exaggerated by the high-volume, low-margin nature of individual products, which, in some communities, carry average microinsurance product annual premium of $14.
While the economics of microinsurance will continue to challenge penetration and premium capture, insurers can overcome significant hurdles related to education and distribution by presenting simplified and relevant products to prospective insurance customers, and developing and executing a distribution strategy through a multidisciplinary team.
How Insurers Can Solve the Microinsurance Quandary
Insurers can position themselves for success in the microinsurance market through a couple of different approaches.
Chief among those is to streamline their services. Microinsurance is a product of its time. Technology allows all kinds of consumer services to provide hyperpersonalized care, which means insurers need to offer products that are as simple and relevant as possible.
To accomplish this goal, insurers must keep the end user in mind during all phases of product creation. Companies need to understand what customers need, how they prioritize those needs, and where their gaps in coverage lie. By identifying these factors, insurers can offer products that clearly spell out the relevant advantages to customers. This clarity can help engage customers and increase the odds that consumers will purchase the coverage.
Customers don’t want to pay for coverages they don’t need. Insurers, therefore, must seize any opportunity to create granular products that are simple and affordable. Not only does this approach provide more useful products to buyers, but it also helps insurers limit how much information they must collect during underwriting.
Additionally, insurers should build cross-functional teams internally to assist with distribution. Getting the right insurance product to the right customer at the right moment takes a coordinated team of experts. Those who distribute these products need to understand the environments in which they sell and have a stake in the profitability of the product.
These distribution partners must also learn to describe to consumers the differences among products. It is not enough to sell: Distributors must be educators who teach customers that insurance can be as trusted as the local brands they know and rely on. To do that, the distributors and the people they serve must be supported through association with charitable and regulatory organizations.
Finally, technology must be leveraged to effectively monitor and mobilize the distribution force and insureds alike. To that end, software developers must build and test features on the basis of real customer feedback and adapt quickly to optimize the products. When the back-end team gives distributors a product that people want, distributors can sell a product that brings clear and tangible benefit to the developing world.
Microinsurance will continue to grow as the needs of the global population continue to evolve. Everyone in the insurance industry, from distributors to developers, is responsible for overseeing the growth of this new niche. Only by collaborating to offer a relevant product will insurers successfully earn their share of this new and burgeoning market.
When technology is baked into a device, we rarely give it much thought. We buy a smartphone for its utility – not its operating system. Sometimes a new technology dramatically changes how everyone does things; the internet is a good example. Some plausibly great innovations, such as 3D television, just never gain traction. Which of these outcomes will blockchain have?
Recently, blockchain has emerged as a technology that will potentially transform industries in a way similar to what the Internet did a couple of decades ago. Still a nascent technology, its many uses have not yet been discovered or explored.
Most people know a little about blockchain:
It lets multiple parties agree on a common record of data and control who has access to it.
Its platform makes cryptocurrencies like bitcoin possible.
Movement of cryptocurrency verified by blockchain allows peer-to-peer cash transfers without involving banks.
Blockchain is a permanent, auditable record, so any tampering with it is obvious.
Some people think blockchain will transform security in financial services and fundamentally reshape how we deal with and trust complex transactions, though this could be a response to hype or a fear of missing out. Many other people ask why and how they should use blockchain.
On the face of it, using a shared (or distributed) ledger to process multiple transactions doesn’t seem so revolutionary. Blockchain is essentially a recordkeeping system. Perhaps its association with cryptocurrency – such as bitcoin – lends it a darker, more enigmatic edge than the software traditionally used for processing multiple transactions. One way or another, insurers face pressure to update antique systems with new ones that can compete with the demands of a digital world, and that means incorporating blockchain technology.
A distributed ledger of transactions
A blockchain can be seen as an ever-growing list of data records, or blocks, that can be easily verified because each block is linked to the previous one, forming a chain. This chain of transactions is stored on a network of computers. For a record to be added to the chain, it typically needs to be validated by a majority of the computers in the network. Importantly, no single entity runs the network or stores the data. Blockchain technology may be used in any form of asset registry, inventory and exchange. This includes transactions of finance, money, physical property and intangible assets, including health information.
Because blockchain networks consist of thousands of computers, they make any effort to add invalid records extremely difficult. Every transaction is secured using a random cryptographic hash, a digital fingerprint that prevents its being misused. Every participant has a complete history of the transactions, helping reduce the chance of transactions being corrupted. Simply put, a blockchain is a resilient, tamper-proof and decentralized store of transactions.
Complex processing and automation with smart contracts
Blockchain ecosystems enable a large number of organizations to join as peers to offer services, data or transactions that serve specific customers or complex transaction workflows transparently. These ecosystems can automatically process and settle transactions via smart contracts that encapsulate the logic for the terms and triggers that enable a transaction.
Smart contracts are created on the blockchain and are immutably recorded on the network to execute transactions based on the software-encoded logic. Transparency through workflows recorded on the blockchain facilitate auditing. Peers and partners within a blockchain ecosystem independently control their business models and the economics without the need to use intermediaries.
Self-executing smart contracts can be used to automate insurance policies, with the potential to reduce friction and fraud at claim stage. A policy could be coded to pay when the conditions are undeniably reached and decentralized data feeds verify that the event has certainly occurred. The blockchain offers enhanced transparency and measurable risk to this scenario.
Parametric insurance, which operates through smart contracts with triggers that are based on measurable events, can facilitate immediate payments while decreasing the administrative efforts and time. Effectively, the decision to pay a claim is taken out of the insurer’s hands. Other possible models are completely technology-based without the need for an actual insurance company. The decentralized blockchain model lends itself well to crowd-sourced types of insurance where premiums and claims are managed with smart contracts.
New insurers using blockchain are emerging and offering increased transparency and faster claims resolution. Here are some examples:
Peer-to-peer property and casualty insurer Lemonade uses an algorithm to pay claims when conditions in blockchain-based smart contracts are met.
Start-up Teambrella also leverages blockchain in a peer-to-peer concept that allows insured members to vote on claims and then settles amounts with bitcoin.
Dynamis provides unemployment insurance on a blockchain-based smart contract platform.
Travel delay insurer insurETH automatically pays claims when delays are detected and verified in a blockchain data ledger.
Etherisc is another new company building decentralized insurance applications on blockchain that can pay valid claims autonomously.
Traditional insurance companies, such as AXA and Generali, have also begun to invest in blockchain applications. Allianz has announced the successful pilot of a blockchain-based smart contract solution to simplify annual renewals, premium payments and claims submission and settlement.
Blockchain has the potential to improve premium, claim and policy processing among multiple parties. For example, in the last year the consultancy EY and data security firm Guardtime announced a blockchain platform to transact marine insurance. This platform pulls together the numerous transactional actions required within a highly complex global trade made up of shipping companies, brokers, insurers and other suppliers.
A consortium of insurers and reinsurers, the Blockchain Insurance Industry Initiative (B3i), has piloted distributed ledger technology to develop standards and procedures for risk transfer that are cross-market compatible. Whether or not the outcome is adopted industry-wide, it seems important for digital solutions to be created with this transparency and inclusiveness in mind.
There is clear potential for blockchain in reinsurance where large amounts of data are moved between reinsurers, brokers and clients, requiring multiple data entry and individual reconciliation. Evaluating alternative ways of conducting business is one reason for the collaboration of Gen Re with iXledger, which can explore ideas while remaining independent.
Handling of medical data and other private or sensitive information
Individuals will generate increasing amounts of personal data, actively and passively, from using phones and Internet of Things (IoT) devices, and processing digital healthcare solutions. Increasingly, consumers will want control of this scattered mass of digital data and share it with whomever they choose in exchange for services. This move aligns perfectly with the concept of a “personal data economy.” Think of information as currency and think about using blockchain to secure private data and reveal it in a secure and trusted manner to selected parties, in exchange for something.
Electronic health records are now common. Several countries use blockchain to secure patient data held digitally. This helps counter legitimate concerns about how sensitive personal data can be kept secure from theft or cyber-attack. Code representing each digital entry to the patient record is added to the blockchain, validated and time-stamped. A consortium of insurers in India is using blockchain to cut the costs of medical tests and evaluations, and to ensure the data collected is kept secure, along with other benefits including identification of potential claims fraud.
Looking to leverage the data economy, companies may employ innovative insurance propositions to engage people. Because the propositions will rely on shared data, people may be put off, fearing a loss of control over their personal information. While this fear poses a huge challenge for an industry seeking to improve its reputation for trust, blockchain technology may help insurers to reassure customers the digital data they share with them is safe.
Verification of documents
Verification of the existence and purpose documents in banks and insurance companies relies on storage, retrieval and access to data. A blockchain simplifies this process with its open ledger, cryptographic hash keys and date-stamped transactions. Actual hard copies of documents are not stored; instead, the hash represents the exact content in a form of scrambled letters and numbers. A change in a document will be exposed because it will not match the encoded one. The effect is an immutability that proves the status of the data at an exact moment and beyond doubt.
Blockchain technology is a “trustless” system because nobody has to trust anybody else for the system to function; the network of users acts together to vouch for the accuracy of the record. Examples of blockchain protecting patient records demonstrate its potential to implement other trusted and secure transactions with less bureaucracy.
There are other opportunities for insurers to move to a digitized paradigm and catalyze efficiency gains; blockchain need not be reserved for cross-industry platforms, and it’s not only useful in multiparty markets with high transaction volumes and significant levels of reconciliation; smaller-scale solutions can bring benefits, too.
Features that ensure privacy and data security
Beyond driving efficiencies, blockchain employs agreed standards for data care, which reduce the vulnerability of data that arises with the mass of sensitive data that digital connectivity creates. Other features that enhance privacy and data security include the contract process: Transactions are not directly associated with the individual, and personal information is not stored in a centralized database vulnerable to cyber-attack. Insurance companies, as well as technology companies, are accountable to their users for the security of their devices, services and software, and hackers are less likely to target enterprises with strong security.
Multiple participants and the removal of a central authority
Transparency, audit-ability and speed are standard requirements for any organization to successfully compete and transact in an increasingly complex global economy. Data is a valuable catalyst to that process and is complemented by blockchain’s ability to organize, access and transact efficiently and compliantly.
Trusted transactions require access to valuable data, and blockchain facilitates efficient access across multiple organizations. The economics for data usage will drive new business models fueled by micropayments, which will require efficiencies to scale. Business models based on data aggregation by third parties in centralized repositories with total control and limited transparency will be replaced by distributed blockchain-enabled data exchanges where data providers are peers within the ecosystem.
Decentralized peer organizations can use the blockchain for permission access, and for facilitating payments, to ensure total control of their economic models, without having a centralized authority. Data access and transactions are controlled directly by each member of the ecosystem, with complete transparency and immediate compensation.
Ecosystems supporting peer organizations that transact or share data will require an effective mechanism for micropayments. These business models require efficiency, with less overhead than traditional account payable and account receivable workflows.
Event triggers, cryptlets that enable secure communication between blockchain, and external verification sources (oracles) will execute based on predetermined criteria, and token payments will be made simultaneously. Counterparty agreements may initially define the relationships between parties on the network, but payments are executed within the smart contract transactions.
The elimination of a time delay in payments acts as a stimulant for economies; tokens earned can immediately be spent, increasing the speed at which organizations will earn and spend. Traditional delays and fees that occur throughout accounting workflows and through intermediary banks that process payments can be eliminated.
Currently, global payments involving foreign exchange introduce complexities in addition to time delays. Economic indicators and political events dramatically affect the exchange rates and profitability of transactions. Cross-border payments require access to the required currencies by intermediary banks, which can cause additional delays beyond the internal accounting workflows.
With blockchain technology, using a token-enabled economic layer simplifies the payments to support micropayment efficiencies. Participants on the blockchain network will be able to efficiently use the preferred fiat currencies to acquire or sell tokens without using intermediaries, banks or currencies.
Merging blockchain and data
Today, there are more connected IoT devices than there are people on the planet, and the data generated is growing at an exponential rate. Various sources have predicted that the number of connected devices will grow to more than 70 billion by 2025; the numbers are almost irrelevant.
IoT devices are used in homes, transportation, communities, urban planning, environment, consumer packaged goods, services and soon in human bodies. A number of insurance companies use these devices to assess driver habits and usage. Autonomous cars and changing ownership and usage models are creating a generation of insurance products that can be facilitated through IoT-collected data. Home devices can detect leaks, theft and fire damage – capabilities that reduce risk. Shipping companies use the IoT for fuel and cargo management, which offers operating efficiencies, transparency and loss prevention.
Merging the mass of IoT data with the blockchain is not without challenges, but this combination can provide a completely new way of creating an insurance model that is far more efficient and faster, and where data flows directly from policyholders to the insurer.
Interest in the trinity of bitcoin, blockchain and distributed ledger technology has significant momentum. However, the technology is not magic or a panacea for every corporate woe. It has disadvantages and limitations, and there are situations where it would even be the wrong solution. There is enough about it, though, to merit continued closer investigation – the many emerging cases of its application bear testament to that – but in place of hype we still need answers.
You own a house. It burns down. Your insurer only pays out 15% of the loss.
That’s a serious case of under-insurance. You’d wonder why you bothered with insurance in the first place. In reality, massive under-insurance is very rare for conventional property fire losses. But what about cyber insurance? In 2017, the total global economic loss from cyber attacks was $1.5 trillion, according to Cambridge University Centre for Risk Studies. But only 15% of that was insured.
I chaired a panel on cyber at the Insurtech Rising conference in September. Sarah Stephens from JLT and Eelco Ouwerkerk from Aon represented the brokers. Andrew Martin from Dyanrisk and Sidd Gavirneni from Zeguro, the two cyber startups. I asked them why we are seeing such a shortfall. Are companies not interested in buying or is the insurance market failing to deliver the necessary protection for cyber today? And is this an opportunity for insurtech start-ups to step in?
High demand, but not the highest priority
We’ll hit $4 billion in cyber insurance premium by the end of this year. Allianz has predicted $20 billion by 2025. And most industry commentators believe 30% to 40% annual growth will continue for the next few years.
A line of business growing at more than 30% per year, with combined ratios around 60%, at a time when insurers are struggling to find new sources of income is not to be sniffed at.
But the risks are getting bigger. My panelists had no problem in rattling off new threats to be concerned with as we look ahead to 2019. Crypto currency hacks, increasing use of cloud, ransomware, GDPR, greater connectivity through sensors, driverless cars, even blockchain itself could be vulnerable. Each technical innovation represents a new threat vector. Cyber insurance is growing, but so is the gap between the economic and insured loss.
The demand is there, but there are a lot of competing priorities. Today’s premiums represent less than 0.1% of the $4.8 trillion global property/casualty market. Let’s try to put that in context. If the ratio of premium between cyber and all other insurance was the same as the ratio of time spent thinking about cyber and other types of risk, how long would a risk manager allocate to cyber risk? Even someone thinking about insurance all day, every day for a full working year would spend less than seven minutes a month on cyber.
It’s not because we are unaware of the risks. Cyber is one of the few classes of insurance that can affect everyone. The NotPetya virus attack, launched in June 2017, caused $2.7 billion of insured loss by May 2018, according to PCS, and losses continues to rise. That makes it the sixth largest catastrophe loss in 2017, a year with major hurricanes and wildfires. Yet the NotPetya event is rarely mentioned as an insurance catastrophe and appears to have had no impact on availability of cover or terms. Rates are even reported to be declining significantly this year.
Large corporates are motivated buyers. They have an appetite for far greater coverage than limits that cap out at $500 million. Less than 40% of SMEs in the U.S. and U.K. had cyber insurance at the end of 2017, but that is far greater penetration than five years ago. The insurance market has an excess of capital to deploy. As the tools evolve, insurance limits will increase. Greater limits mean more premium, which in turn create more revenue to justify higher fees for licensing new cyber tools. Everyone wins.
Growing cyber insurance coverage is core to the strategy of many of the largest insurers.
Cyber risk has been available since at least 2004. Some of the major insurers have had an appetite for providing cyber cover for a decade or more. AIG is the largest writer, with more than 20% of the market. Chubb, Axis, XL Catlin and Lloyd’s insurer Beazley entered the market early and continue to increase their exposure to cyber insurance. Munich Re has declared that it wants to write 10% of the cyber insurance market by 2020 (when it estimates premium will be $8 billion to $10 billion). All of these companies are partnering with established experts in cyber risk, and start-ups, buying third party analytics and data. Some, such as Munich Re, also offer underwriting capacity to MGAs specializing in cyber.
The major brokers are building up their own skills, too. Aon acquired Stroz Friedberg in 2016. Both Guy Carpenter and JLT announced relationships earlier this year with cyber modeling company and Symantec spin off CyberCube. Not every major insurer is a cyber enthusiast. Swiss Re CEO Christian Mumenthaler declared that the company would stay underweight in its cyber coverage. But most insurers are realizing they need to be active in this market. According to Fitch, 75 insurers wrote more than $1 million each of annual cyber premiums last year.
But are the analytics keeping up?
Despite the existence of cyber analytic tools, part of the problem is that demand for insurance is constrained by the extent to which even the most credible tools can measure and manage the risk. Insurers are rightly cautious, and some skeptical, as to the extent to which data and analytics can be used to price cyber insurance. The inherent uncertainties of any model are compounded by a risk that is rapidly evolving, driven by motivated “threat actors” continually probing for weaknesses.
The biggest barrier to growth is the ability to confidently diversify cyber insurance exposures. Most insurers, and all reinsurers, can offer conventional insurance at scale because they expect losses to come from only a small part of their portfolio. Notwithstanding the occasional wildfire, fire risks tend to be spread out in time and geography, and losses are largely predicable year to year. Natural catastrophes such as hurricanes or floods can create unpredictable and large local concentrations of loss but are limited to well-known regions. Major losses can be offset with reinsurance.
Cyber crosses all boundaries. In today’s highly connected world, corporate and country boundaries offer few barriers to a determined and malicious assailant. The largest cyber writers understand the risk for potential contagion across their books. They are among the biggest supporters of the new tools and analytics that help understand and manage their cyber risk accumulation.
What about insurtech?
Insurer, investor or startup – everyone today is looking for the products that have the potential to achieve breakout growth. Established insurers want new solutions to new problems; investment funds are under pressure to deploy their capital. A handful of new companies are emerging, either to offer insurers cyber analytics or to sell cyber insurance themselves. Some want to do both. But is this sufficient?
The SME sector is becoming fertile ground for MGAs and brokers starting up or refocusing their offerings. But with such a huge, untapped market (85% of loss not insured), why aren’t cyber startups dominating the insurtech scene by now? The number of insurtech companies offering credible analytics for cyber seems disproportionately small relative to the opportunity and growth potential. Do we really need another startup offering insurance for flight cancellation, bicycle insurance or mobile phone damage?
While the opportunity for insurtech startups is clear, this is a tough area to succeed in. Building an industrial-strength cyber model is hard. Convincing an insurer to make multimillion-dollar bets on the basis of what the model says is even more difficult. Not everyone is going to be a winner. Some of the companies emerging in this space are already struggling to make sustainable commercial progress. Cyber risk modeler Cyence roared out from stealth mode fueled by $40 million of VC funding in September 2016 and was acquired by Guidewire a year later for $265 million. Today, the company appears to be struggling to deliver on its early promises, with rumors of clients returning the product and changes in key personnel.
The silent threat
The market for cyber is not just growing vertically. There is the potential for major horizontal growth, too. Cyber risks affect the mainstream insurance markets, and this gives another source of threat, but also opportunity.
Most of the focus on cyber insurance has been on the affirmative cover – situations where cyber is explicitly written, often as a result of being excluded from conventional contracts. Losses can also come from ” silent cyber,” the damage to physical assets triggered by an attack that would be covered under a conventional policy where cyber exclusions are not explicit. Silent cyber losses could be massive. In 2015, the Cambridge Risk Centre worked with Lloyd’s to model a power shutdown of the U.S. Northeast caused by an attack on power generators. The center estimated a minimum of $243 billion economic loss and $24 billion in insured loss.
In the current market conditions, cyber can be difficult to exclude from more traditional coverage such as property fire policies, or may just be overlooked. So far, there have been only a handful of small reported losses attributed to silent cyber. But now regulators are starting to ask companies to account for how they manage their silent cyber exposures. It’s on the future list of product features for some of the existing models. Helping companies address regulatory demands is an area worth exploring for startups in any industry.
We all know cyber risk exists. Intuitively, we understand an attack on our technology could be bad for us. Yet, despite the level of reported losses, few of us have personally, or professionally, experienced a disabling attack. The well-publicized attacks on large, familiar corporations, including, most recently, British Airways, have mostly affected only single companies. Data breach has been by far the most common type of loss. No one company has yet been completely locked out of its computer systems. WannaCry and NotPetya were unusual in targeting multiple organizations, with far more aggressive attacks that disabled systems, but on a very localized basis.
So, most of us underestimate both the risk (how likely), and the severity (how bad) of a cyber attack in our own lives. We are not as diligent as we should be in managing our passwords or implementing basic cyber hygiene. We, too, spend less than seven minutes a month thinking about our cyber risk.
This lack of deep fear about the cyber threat (some may call it complacency) goes further than increasing our own vulnerabilities. It also the reason we have more startups offering new ways to underwrite bicycles than we do companies with credible analytics for cyber.
Rationally, we know the risk exists and could be debilitating. Emotionally, our lack of personal experience means that cyber remains “interesting” but not “compelling” either as an investment or startup choice.
So, let’s not beat up the incumbents again. Insurance has a slow pulse rate. Change is geared around an annual cycle of renewals. It evolves, but slowly. Insurers want to write more cyber risk, but not blindly. The growth of the market relies on the tools to measure and manage the risk. The emergence of a new breed of technology companies, such as CyberCube, that combine deep domain knowledge in cyber analytics with an understanding of insurance and catastrophe modeling, is setting the standard for new entrants.
Managing cyber risk will become an increasingly important part of our lives. It’s not easy, and there are few shortcuts, but there are still plenty of opportunities to get involved helping to manage, measure and insure the risk. When (not if) a true cyber mega-catastrophe does happen, attitudes will change rapidly. Those already in the market, whether as investors, startups or forward thinking insurers, will be best-positioned to meet the urgent need for increased risk mitigation and insurance.
P&C insurance carriers have witnessed a lot of changes in the past decade, but few have been as surprising as the shift of power currently taking place across the industry.
According to Dennis Chookaszian, the former CEO and chair of CNA, carriers maintain only 40% of profits today, representing a drop of 20 to 25 points from the 1960s. An equal share now goes to the distribution system, as carriers line up to acquire and maintain more customers.
What’s behind this shift in profitability can’t be summed up in a single word, but increasing competition, new market entrants, improving technology, changing customer expectations and continued consumer price sensitivity all play a role.
To remain competitive, carriers will need to gain more control over distribution, a goal that even Chookaszian admits will not be easy to achieve.
Why the Power-Shift Toward Distribution
In the mid-part of the last decade, insurance carriers required two primary competencies to operate: data and capital. Because neither was easy to acquire, competition was less robust, and incumbent carriers found greater profitability, taking in roughly two-thirds of insurance transaction profits.
Today, data is everywhere, and through the use of analytics, simpler than ever to understand and use. Capital is also easier to acquire, as is evidenced by the growing number of insurtech players in the industry. According to Willis Towers Watson, $2.3 billion was invested in new insurance tech companies in 2017.
According to Chookaszian, the core competency for insurers now lies in distribution and control of the customer.
“It’s become so competitive that the carriers basically are always out looking for new accounts,” Chookaszian says.
That means higher commissions are paid to agents as carriers battle it out for market share, resulting in shrinking margins.
“Given the shift in profitability to distribution, the carriers that will be better off will try to regain some control over distribution,” Chookaszian says.
Admittedly, that is not an easy thing to do. The agent enterprise is part and parcel of most insurance operations. Directly selling insurance to consumers will require insurers to set up their own distribution systems, while still supporting their vast networks of independent or captive agent forces.
When Benjamin Franklin started the first successful U.S.-based insurance company in 1752, he was dealing with a localized Philadelphia population, but, by the end of the 18th century, citizens were moving westward, making it necessary for insurers to expand their distribution networks.
The Hartford made the first foray into direct distribution by offering insurance through the mail, but few consumers of the time were willing to give up the personal services of an agent when it came to purchasing something as critical as insurance. Carriers of the time faced a similar dilemma as carriers do today: how to acquire customers in a changing marketplace.
According to the J.D. Power 2018 US. Insurance Shopping Study, insurers are aggressively courting customers with new options and amenities as auto insurance rates remain stagnant and the number of consumers seeking coverage declines.
“We’re entering an era of consumer-centric insurance that will likely be marked by a surge in new digital offerings and serious efforts by insurers to improve the auto insurance shopping experience,” says Tom Super, director of the property and casualty insurance practice at J.D. Power.
This shift is happening across all lines of coverage, even small commercial.
While citizens on the new 17th-century frontier may have been hesitant to buy coverage without the guidance of an agent, many 21st-century buyers have no such qualms. Nearly half of consumers responding to a survey conducted by Clearsurance said that they would purchase an insurance policy online, while 65% believe this will be the primary channel for purchasing coverage within the next five years.
According to research conducted by Accenture, consumers are open to a number of new possibilities when it comes to buying the policies they need:
Power in the form of profits may have shifted to distribution, but consumers are making a power play of their own, demanding greater service and amenities and taking their business to the carrier most capable of meeting preferences and price points. In a world of shifting power, creating an active, online distribution channel puts more of the profit back into the carrier’s bottom line and allows it to attract more customers in three distinct ways.
Cutting Transaction Costs
According to a report from the Geneva Association, the leading international insurance think tank for strategically important insurance and risk management issues, 40% of P&C premiums are absorbed by transaction costs, leading to inflated policy pricing that drives away potential customers. PwC pegs distribution as a heavy culprit, reporting that 30% of the cost of an insurance product is eaten up in distribution.
On the other hand, Bain predicts that insurers could cut the cost of acquisition by as much as 43% through digitalization. Underwriting expenses could drop as much as 53%.
Reducing these costs allows insurers to present a more attractively priced product to consumers, an important consideration given that 50% of customers base their loyalty with an insurer on price.
To understand how costs are reduced through digital distribution, it helps to understand how a leading digital distribution platform works to raise efficiency. According to PwC, up to 80% of the underwriting process can be consumed by administrative tasks that require manual workarounds, such as re-entering information into multiple systems.
Much of this re-inputting of data is due to the siloed nature of insurers’ administration systems. Digital distribution platforms create a layer between the front-end online storefront, where customers enter application data, and the back-end systems used to store information.
As consumers enter their personal details into the online application, all back-end systems are populated automatically, eliminating the need for manual work-arounds. Everyone across the organization has the same view of the customer and access to any information that has been provided.
Digital platforms are also masters of straight-through processing, automating the quote-to-issue lifecycle and reducing the need for manual underwriting. By automatically quoting, binding and issuing routine policies, insurers reduce costs and also provide a more “informed basis for pricing and loss evaluation,” according to PwC.
As costs drop, insurers are also able to more competitively price insurance coverage. Lower prices win more customers allowing insurers to take back some of the profitability of distribution.
Improving Customer Experiences
When it comes to insurer-insured relationships, there is a gap between what consumers want and what insurers provide. Consumers rate the following points as very important aspects of the insurance buying experience:
Clear and easy information on policies
Access to information whenever it is needed
Ability to compare rates and switch plans
A wide range of services
But few consumers agree their insurer is meeting these expectations:
27% see clear and easy information on policies
29% report access to information whenever they need it
21% say there is the ability to compare rates and switch plans
24% see a wide range of services
The customer experience is becoming a key differentiator across the insurance industry. McKinsey reports two to four times higher growth and 30% higher profitability for insurers that provide best-in-class customer service, but here’s the rub. Only the top quartile of carriers fall into this category.
Becoming a customer experience leader requires insurers to understand that the separate functions associated with policy sales and distribution appear as a single journey to consumers. They expect to quote, bind and issue multiple policies through a single application, using as many channels as they feel necessary to get the job done.
While 80% of consumers touch a digital channel at least once during an insurance transaction, 45% of auto insurance shoppers use multiple channels when making a purchase. They expect to be recognized across these channels, picking up in one where they left off in another.
The multiple back-end systems employed by most insurers present a strategic dilemma here, as well as in the area of cost containment. Without transparency between channels, consumers are forced to restart a transaction every time they change their engagement method.
“It amounts to a great deal of frustration for the consumer,” says Tom Hammond, president U.S. operations, BOLT. “You start an application online and then call the customer-facing call center, and they can’t see what you did through the online storefront.”
Hammond explains that digital distribution needs to be omni-channel distribution, seamlessly integrated with a single view of the customer. It’s the only way to meet consumer experience expectations now and into the future.
Thanks to advances in analytics and artificial intelligence, the amount of data that is available to carriers has grown significantly, and consumers expect that information to be leveraged for their benefit. Eighty percent of consumers want personalized offers and pricing from their insurers.
Progressive is one of the 22% of carriers currently making strides to offer personalized, real-time digital services, having recently released HomeQuote Explorer. From an app or computer, consumers can enter information once and receive side-by-side comparisons from multiple homeowners insurance providers. According to the company, they leverage a network of home insurers to make sure customers can find the coverage they need at a comfortable price.
Oliver Lauer, head of architecture/head of IT innovation at Zurich, believes these collaborative networks are an integral part of the digital future of insurance.
“Digital innovation means you have to develop your insurance company to an open and digitally enabled platform that can interface with everybody every time in real time – from customers to brokers, to other insurers, but also to fintechs and insurtechs,” Lauer says.
Using a digitally enabled market network, insurers can fill product gaps and even meet customer needs when they don’t have an appetite for the risk. The premise is simple. By offering coverage from other insurers, they maintain the customer relationship and reap the rewards of loyalty.
As society changes and consumer needs evolve, the ability to personalize bundled coverage to the needs of the individual will become increasingly important. Consumers are now looking for coverage to mitigate risk in previously unheard-of areas, such as cyber security, identity theft and even activities related to legalized marijuana.
When an insurer is unable to provide the coverage a customer needs, it risks forfeiting that relationship, and any other policies bundled with it, to another carrier. But when the carrier takes part in a market network, it can bundle the appropriate coverage from another insurer with its own products, personalizing the coverage to better fit the needs of the customer.
Digital platforms offering market networks also set the stage for insurers to offer ancillary services, such as roadside assistance, that make their insurance products more attractive to consumers. We see this happening with increasing frequency as carriers seek to improve the customer experience and lift their acquisition efforts.
DMC Insurance, a provider of commercial transportation insurance solutions, recently announced a partnership with BlackBerry Radar. The venture would provide transportation companies with real-time data on vehicle location, as well as cargo-related information, such as temperature, humidity, door status and load state. Information like this will help companies better manage risk.
In the personal lines market, insurers are partnering to offer services that enhance the life of their customers. Allstate’s partnership with OpenBay allows consumers to review repair shops and schedule an appointment from an app. Allianz is helping home owners safeguard properties by partnering with Panasonic on sensors that monitor home functions and report issues. Customers can even schedule repairs through the service.
Digital Distribution Benefits All
J.D. Power reveals that digital insurers are winning the intense battle for market share in the insurance industry, starting a shift that could help level the profitability field between distributors and carriers. In a recent insurance shopper survey, overall satisfaction was six points higher for digital insurers over those that sell through independent agents. This lead grows to 12 points when compared with carriers with exclusive agents.
According to research by IDC, digital succeeds on the strength of its data. The ability to collect and analyze the vast stores of data available through these interactions, including such variables as the time of day the consumer shopped for coverage, the channel the consumer used, and stores of information collected from third-parties as part of the automated application process, provides the key to improved customer service.
“By analyzing this data, insurers can understand each customer’s lifestyle, behaviors and preferences in order to engage with them at the right time and place, offer personalized service and offers and more,” says Andy Hirst, vice president of banking solutions, SAP Banking Industry Business Unit.
As insurers create omni-channel engagement, they’re strengthening distribution from every angle, giving consumers the option to quote coverage online when it’s most convenient for them, and then buy it right then and there or to seamlessly call an agent to discuss their options and their risk.
Customer experience is rapidly becoming the foundation of success in the industry, and digital distribution provides the first link in building that base of core customer satisfaction. By providing consumers with multiple channels of engagement and the ability to meet more of their needs at any time, day or night, carriers are taking back the lead on profitability.